Take some Tylenol before you read the transcript of the Republican debate in Las Vegas last night, filled as it is with gobbledygook about Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, Mitt Romney’s hiring of illegal aliens, Cain’s plan to electrocute people crossing the US border, Michele Bachmann’s fulminations about “anchor babies,” and Rick Perry’s musing on whether or not Mormonism is a cult. Woody Allen said it best: the scariest thing is that these people might actually be the GOP’s Best and Brightest.
Nevertheless, this column is about their comments on foreign policy.
Perhaps the most striking thing in that forlorn area is that neither Romney nor Perry cared much to weigh in. That left the others in the field, including Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Bachmann and a few others to express themselves with their own curious views. Listening to the answers, and to CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s less-than-probing questions, you’d never know that that the world is full of crises, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Middle East, China’s rise, Pakistan’s collapse, Russia’s anti-democratic transition, and so on.
The issue was first raised, not surprisingly in the Republican debate in regard to spending, in this case on defense, when an audience member asked about the idea to “cut defense spending by $500 billion.” Bachmann responded all over the place, calling Iran’s president “a genocidal maniac,” excoriating Iran for its just-revealed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador, and finally saying, without irony, that if she’s elected president, “We will be respected again in the world.” To her credit, though Bachmann refused to sound like a typical Republican hawk, saying that “defense spending is on the table” for cuts. More importantly, she raised alarms about the decision this week by President Obama to send US special forces to Uganda to get involved in the brutal wars of Central Africa. “We saw the president of the United States engage American troops in a fourth conflict in a foreign land. This is historic,” she said. “He is now putting us in Africa. We already were stretched too thin, and he put our special operations forces in Africa.” I agree, Ms. Bachmann.
Gingrich robotically denounced the idea that the Congressional supercommittee will slash hundreds of billions in defense dollars, but he too called himself a hawk, but a “cheap hawk.”
Ron Paul reaffirmed his plan to cut defense spending by 15 percent, get out of Afghanistan, close US military bases and more. “We have an empire,” he said. “We can’t afford it.”
There was a great kerfuffle over terrorism and Israel’s deal with Hamas to free prisoners, with various candidates rushing to Israel’s defense while paradoxically saying that they’d never talk to terrorists. “ I mean, you can’t negotiate with terrorists, period,” said Rick Santorum. Then Santorum went off the deep end, saying something about Iran, that Saudi Arabia is the “leader of the Islamic world,” and adding, “We are going to be the supreme leader of the secular world.” Supreme leader of the secular world? That’s a classic. Ayatollah Khameini, Iran’s supreme leader, versus the Great Satan, Supreme Leader of the Secular World.
Perry and Romney finally weighed in on the issue of foreign aid, suggesting that it’s time for cuts, a theme that always revs up GOP yahoos. Said Perry, solemnly, “I think it’s time for this country to have a very real debate about foreign aid.” As if he knows the first thing about it. Romney, sounding like a boring professor, began his response by saying, “Foreign aid has several elements.” He likes the military element, and he likes the pro-Israel element.” The rest? “We ought to get the Chinese to take care of [those] people.”
Paul clashed with Bachmann over cutting aid to Israel (Paul: Yes. Bachmann: Never).
In a bleak landscape, I guess it’s good news that neoconservatives and hawks didn’t dominate the GOP debate, with little saber-rattling, pledges to invade other countries and warnings about China’s rise to dominate the Pacific.